Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Joy Is Only the Beginning

Parents who oppose the practice of routinely aborting children with disabilities often write or speak about how much joy their child has brought into their lives. It's a point that needs to be made, in the face of a relentless onslaught of pro-eugenics propaganda that describes the very existence of certain kinds of people as devastating and tragic, but sometimes I wonder if we might be playing into the enemy's hands by putting too much emphasis on it.

One of the underlying assumptions of modern-day eugenics is that children are equivalent to consumer goods. Like a new car or a stereo system, a child is valuable only to the extent that he or she provides enjoyment to the family. Children are looked upon as accessories to their parents' lifestyle. In this social climate, when we argue that children can bring joy to their parents even when they have neurological or other differences, we are allowing the enemy to frame the parameters of the debate. The value of a child's existence should not be defined in terms of consumer satisfaction.

It's only a short way down the slippery slope from finding joy in spite of perceived misfortune, to platitudes about cherishing the lovely landscape of a metaphorical Holland to which certain families are banished, to Peter Singer and Precious Ashley. Children who fall into the many categories targeted by the eugenicists can be reduced to little more than stuffed animals (as a recent post on the MomSquawk blog put it) who are magnanimously allowed to be decorations in their parents' homes, if they're allowed to live at all.

In his book The Road Less Traveled, psychoanalyst M. Scott Peck described how love differs from narcissism in a chapter entitled "Love Is Separateness." Although the following excerpt deals with marital relationships, not parenting, I believe that the point is equally applicable in both contexts.

Not too long ago in a couples group I heard one of the members state that the "purpose and function" of his wife was to keep their house neat and him well fed. I was aghast at what seemed to me his painfully blatant male chauvinism. I thought I might demonstrate this to him by asking the other members of the group to state how they perceived the purpose and function of their spouses. To my horror the six others, male and female alike, gave very similar answers. All of them defined the purpose and function of their husbands or wives in reference to themselves; all of them failed to perceive that their mates might have an existence basically separate from their own or any kind of destiny apart from their marriage. "Good grief," I exclaimed, "it's no wonder that you are all having difficulties in your marriages, and you'll continue to have difficulties until you come to recognize that each of you has your own separate destiny to fulfill." The group felt not only chastised but profoundly confused by my pronouncement. Somewhat belligerently they asked me to define the purpose and function of my wife. "The purpose and function of Lily," I responded, "is to grow to be the most of which she is capable, not for my benefit but for her own and to the glory of God." The concept remained alien to them for some time, however.

I'll acknowledge that parents are not necessarily being selfish when they worry that they might not be able to deal with raising a special-needs child. Fear of the unknown is the main issue there. But as to that fear, I'll say this: Children are always different from their parents and from one another in a great many ways, and each child is uncharted territory. No one ever knows how well they can deal with parenting any child. It's always a matter of gaining experience on the job, observing how the child grows and learns, and loving the child enough to let the natural process of growth take place, unconstrained by the parents' needs and assumptions.



  • It's hard to be vigilant to stop oneself from falling into these traps.

    By Blogger Maddy, at 7:32 PM  

  • Right on! This is one reason I speak up when parents seem to confuse their own reality with that of their child, assuming that what is good for them, as parents, is good for their child. No way... It may be convenient to think this way, but I believe that it's disrespectful to the child. As mcewen points out, it's difficult to be constantly mindful of our separateness, but it's essential to a good relationship.

    By Blogger The Jedi Family of Blogs, at 7:41 PM  

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